Saturday, August 2, 2008

Net Neutrality Wins a Big One

Link to 8/1 post "Historic Victory for Net Neutrality".

Comcast tried to stop it. Telecom-funded politicians tried to discourage it. Big Media tried to de-legitimize it. But nothing could stop the people-powered movement to hold Comcast accountable for illegally blocking Internet content. Today, the FCC issued a punishment that has Network Neutrality opponents cringing and the rest of us popping champagne.

In a landmark decision, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein approved a bipartisan “enforcement order” that would require Comcast to stop blocking and publicly disclose its methods for manipulating Internet traffic.

L. E. Phillips Remodeling Project Scaled Back

Link to 8/1 Eau Claire Leader Telegram article, "Scaled down library plan approved".

The smaller version of the project has an estimated cost of $1.57 million [original price tag: $3.9 million], with three-quarters of the money going toward upgrades to the youth services area. Most of the new plan's construction would be apparent to customers as they enter the front door.

Currently, the checkout desk and circulation area are directly in front of the main doors, which often creates congestion at the library entrance. The new plan calls for moving circulation and checkout to the left of the front door with added shelving for items on hold.

The youth services area would then expand into the space currently occupied by circulation.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Deciphering History

Link to July 31 New York Times article, "Discovering How Greeks Computed in 100 B.C."

The Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the first analog computer, was recovered more than a century ago in the wreckage of a ship that sank off the tiny island of Antikythera, north of Crete. Earlier research showed that the device was probably built between 140 and 100 B.C.

Only now, applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, have experts been able to decipher inscriptions and reconstruct functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The latest research has revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Scrabulous: Cry Baby Moment of the Day

Link to July 30 New York Times article, " Only a Game? A Fight Over Scrabble Has Web Fans Fuming".

The demise of Scrabulous was sudden but not wholly unexpected. The game, a favorite time-waster among cubicle dwellers, was created by two brothers in Calcutta. On July 24, Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to Scrabble, sued them for copyright infringement. On Tuesday, the brothers made Scrabulous unavailable to Facebook users in Canada and the United States, citing legal pressure.

The backlash was instant. Bloggers denounced Hasbro, howls of protest flooded message boards, and new Facebook groups were created with names like “Down with Hasbro.” Although some people spoke up to defend Hasbro’s rights, most people jeered at the company, calling it everything from “short-sighted” to “technologically in the dark” to “despicable.”

How Do You Read?

I haven't had a chance to read the Atlantic article, "Is Google Making us Stupid", so I don't know if Nicholas Carr (the author) thinks he's invented the wheel, but this general discussion thread (technology and reading; not so much the stupidity part) has been going on for a long time. In technology years, anyway.

See "In So Many Words: How Technology is Changing the Reading Habit", American Demographics, March 1997.

Fears that the Internet and other technologies will cause the decline and fall of print media are probably not warranted. Although people aren't reading as many books as they used to, their thirst for information seems limitless. Publishers who enhance the reading experience with electronic media may find the next generation of customers as literature as any they've ever seen.

"Media is not a zero sum game," says Paul Saffo, a director of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, California. "Just because a new medium arrives doesn't mean an old medium dies out. We still have writing in an age of word processing, we still have reading in an age of video. That will continue, but the nature of reading will change as it has changed all along."

Children who are read to by adults often start reading earlier and are more likely to develop a lifelong love of reading. Thirty-one percent of children who were read to by their parents learned to read before age 6, compared with 12 percent of those who were not read to, according to a 1990 Gallup study.

American Demographics had been on my required reading list for years until its demise in November 2004. I still miss it.

Like Fixing a Hole in the Ocean?

Let's hope not.

Link to July 30 New York Times article, "With Security at Risk, a Push to Patch the Web ".

The flaw that Mr. Kaminsky discovered is in the Domain Name System, a kind of automated phone book that converts human-friendly addresses like into machine-friendly numeric counterparts.

The potential consequences of the flaw are significant. It could allow a criminal to redirect Web traffic secretly, so that a person typing a bank’s actual Web address would be sent to an impostor site set up to steal the user’s name and password. The user might have no clue about the misdirection, and unconfirmed reports in the Web community indicate that attempted attacks are already under way.

The problem is analogous to the risk of phoning directory assistance at, for example, AT&T, asking for the number for Bank of America and being given an illicit number at which an operator masquerading as a bank employee asks for your account number and password.

Blame It on the 'Burbs

Not a Pretty Picture Anymore

Link to July 30 JSOnline article, "City employees challenge nursing, library cuts at budget hearing".

[Mayor Tom] Barrett said libraries have an important role in society. But he said the difficulty of budgeting was demonstrated by the furious suburban reaction to what he called a relatively minor change this year, when the Milwaukee library stopped letting patrons place most DVDs and CDs on hold for them to pick up at their neighborhood and suburban libraries.

“If we’re not able to make that change, how can we make any changes at a time when people are losing their jobs and gas prices are going through the roof?” Barrett asked.

As a result of a directive from City of Milwaukee budget officials to "trim spending", the 2009 library budget proposal would lead to the closing of four neighborhood branches.

Is there any irony here that the overall city budget for 2009 would cut back on tree pruning?

"Free-Range History" Trumps the Official Narrative

Here's a perfect example of what happens when entrenched organizations cling to their old ways of doing business.

Link to July 30 New York Times article, "When Official Truth Collides With Cheap Digital Technology".

But this episode was not just a powerful crash between one bicyclist and a police officer. It may turn out to be yet another head-on collision between false stories told by some police officers in criminal court cases and documentary evidence that directly contradicts them. And while in many instances the inaccurate stories have been tolerated by police superiors and prosecutors, Officer Pogan’s account is getting high-level scrutiny.

Later that night, Officer Pogan composed a story of his encounter with Mr. Long. It bore no resemblance to the events seen on the videotape. Based on the sworn complaint, Mr. Long was held for 26 hours on charges of attempted assault and disorderly conduct.

Over the weekend, though, the videotape, made by a tourist in Times Square with his family, fell into the hands of people involved with Critical Mass, the monthly bicycle rally that Mr. Long had been riding in.

The availability of cheap digital technology — video cameras, digital cameras, cellphone cameras — has ended a monopoly on the history of public gatherings that was limited to the official narratives, like the sworn documents created by police officers and prosecutors. The digital age has brought in free-range history.

Officer Pogan's complaint against bicyclist Christopher Long is found here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Libraries and Technology: A Successful Mix

Link to July 25 Wausau Daily Herald article, "Technology's been good for Marathon County, Merrill libraries".

There was a time when the Internet was supposed to make libraries a thing of the past. If anything, it's given them a stronger future.

"I was told ... early in the '90s that libraries would be gone," said Beatrice Lebal, director of the T.B. Scott Library in Merrill. " Of course, that hasn't happened."

Library operators say the Internet and other technology are improving their services to customers -- and in most cases nationwide its leading to more use, according to a Gannett News Service analysis of state data.

Local libraries have seen a mix of that, but are unquestionably seeing the benefits.
Link to July 27 New York Times article, "Say So Long to an Old Companion: Cassette Tapes ".

There was a funeral the other day in the Midtown offices of Hachette, the book publisher, to mourn the passing of what it called a “dear friend.” Nobody had actually died, except for a piece of technology, the cassette tape.

While the cassette was dumped long ago by the music industry, it has lived on among publishers of audio books. Many people prefer cassettes because they make it easy to pick up in the same place where the listener left off, or to rewind in case a certain sentence is missed. For Hachette, however, demand had slowed so much that it released its last book on cassette in June, with “Sail,” a novel by James Patterson and Howard Roughan.

Coincidentally at Middleton, we're in the process of weeding the last of our books on tapes. Numerically, the collection peaked in 1999 with a total of 2593 volumes. As of June 30, 2008, we were down to 884.

Comparative January-June circulation statistics for this format:
421 in 2008 (out of a total year-to-date circ of 370,624)
724 in 2007
1064 in 2006